Neighbours is set to reveal its first regular gay male character.
Chris Pappas (played by 20yr-old James Mason), a fairly new addition to the cast at Ramsey Street, will come out as gay in an episode airing this week.
Last week’s episodes and a promo for the show hinted at the upcoming storyline and the revelation of a ‘secret’.
The iconic Australian drama which is one of the country’s biggest cultural exports, has featured a few short-term gay characters in the show before.
The first gay character to appear on the show was builder Andrew MacKenzie (played by John Morris) back in 1994. Then in 1995 schoolteacher Andrew Watson (played by Chris Uhlman) became a victim of student rumours and a campaign for his dismissal as a teacher by parents, for being gay. Other characters hinting at queer identity included hairdresser and musical theatre lover Gino (played by Shane McNamara).
However, the new gay storyline featuring teenage character Chris Pappas will be the first time in the show’s 25 year history that it will feature an ongoing regular gay character.
Home and Away’s lesbian storyline and kiss was one of the most talked about Australian TV drama topics last year, fueling much controversy and debate both within and outside of the queer community. It is anticipated that the teenage coming out story will attract the show similar significant attention, with some media commentators calling Neighbours decision to feature a queer direction as an obvious ratings grab and an attempt to out-gay Home and Away.
However, it was overwhelming requests from young viewers in online forums are what drove the development of the gay character and his coming out story, according to the executive producer of Neighbours, Susan Bower.
Bower told the Herald Sun that while lesbian romances had featured on shows like Home and Away and Neighbours, intimacy between men was still fairly taboo in Australian drama.
She told of how over the years Neighbours has withstood public criticism and condemnation in relation to their other controversial storylines that have included surrogacy, extra-marital affairs and teenage pregnancy, and that she expected that the new gay storyline would fare a similar fate.
“Neighbours is an icon, like Vegemite. People get very possessive about it,” she says.
“I do believe homophobia is still alive and well, and I have no doubt that we will get complaints about it.”
An emotional episode
UPDATED 10 August 2010:
Scenes broadcast on Monday night’s episode of Neighbours show high-school student Chris recording his emotional confession tape, before his guidance counselor guesses what his drama might be.
Watch clips from last night’s show below.